House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

moved that Bill C-526, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I thank all my colleagues who appreciate this government's stance on taking care of business as far as criminals go. I have seen more criminal laws come into place over the last 10 years, I think, than the previous 20 years. It shows the importance to this government of ensuring that we crack down on crime and protect Canadians.

I am very pleased to stand today in support of the bill. It comes about as a result of my own practice in law. I spent most of the 1990s practising criminal law and other forms of litigation in northern Alberta. During that time, I saw some very horrendous crimes that I felt did not have proper punishment, as a result of the inability of judges to, in essence, throw the book at people who are involved in more serious crimes. When I say that, I talk about crimes that I find particularly repugnant; those crimes that include more than two people, for instance, three or more people. Those people usually start with low-level crimes, where they are organized and they talk about it. Then they move on to higher-level crimes, if indeed they get away with them or the judicial system has no ability to crack down on them.

In particular, Bill C-526 would strengthen the Criminal Code's response to organized crime and terrorism. I know that terrorism does not happen very often in this country, thank goodness. However, we do have a situation where criminal organizations are very active in this country. Make no mistake, criminal organizations account for a very large amount of crime, more particularly the very serious nature of the crimes themselves, such as murders, arsons or things like that. Most serious crimes that include violence are more likely gang related and related to organized crime. This government has been committed to taking steps to ensure these crimes are treated as among the most serious in the Criminal Code.

I intend, today, through this bill, to allow judges more discretion at the final disposition of sentence and also to enable crown prosecutors to do what they do a lot of, which is plea bargaining, to get a situation that they may not receive a conviction on but that allows the judge to, in essence, throw the book at them at the time of sentencing.

This proposal is to amend the Criminal Code sentencing provision that sets out factors which should be considered to be aggravating or mitigating, in essence, aggravating factors. If they are involved in the crime themselves and the facts have been proven, the person would be found to be more liable and could receive a larger sentence. This means, as well, that the judge would increase or decrease sentence as a result of those factors that arose during the commission of the offence.

It proposes to amend the list of aggravating factors in two ways.

First, it would create a new aggravating factor for sentencing where there is evidence that an offence was connected in any way to a group of three or more persons who had a common purpose of facilitating or committing an offence under the Criminal Code or any act of Parliament.

Second, the bill proposes to create a new category of serious aggravating factors, which would include evidence that the offence was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, or there was evidence that the offence was a terrorism offence, which is very serious indeed.

This last amendment aims to send a very important message of public policy from our government and from all future governments; that is, that organized crime and terrorism offences are among the most serious offences in the Criminal Code and that the courts should not tolerate them. They should consider them to be even more serious aggravating factors, as specified in the Criminal Code.

These factors play an important role in the judicial process of determining an appropriate sentence for a convicted offender.

The Criminal Code actually enumerates some specific factors that Parliament considers to be aggravating or mitigating. This list is not exhaustive, but it would certainly give judges and the judiciary a specific direction as to how public policy should be placed on these people and how they should treat them when convicted. Factors in this provision must be taken into consideration by a judge. They are actually asked to consider them under this legislation.

However, a judge can also consider other aggravating or mitigating factors that arise in those particular cases. It would give judges the discretion, and it would clearly enumerate that this government, and, I, in particular, have faith in the judiciary. If given the proper tools, they will throw the book at these criminals who participate in such despicable behaviour.

There are strong public policy reasons to treat offences that are committed by three or more people with greater severity than offences committed by one individual. I do not think I need to go into detail on that. Most Canadians would agree that three or more people who are involved in an offence, who would commit some criminal behaviour, should be treated differently than those who are singularly involved. It shows more complexity and more of a desire to be involved in this type of element.

The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics released a report in November of this year, entitled “Co-offending in Canada, 2011”, which examined co-offending trends in Canada. It defined co-offending as being crimes involving two or more accused people, and group crimes as being crimes involving three or more accused people.

Group crimes are what I am interested in with the first amendment. Group crimes only account for 3% of criminal incidents in Canada. Most people would say that is not a lot, but the truth is that for a number of reasons we should give more attention to these crimes. They are more serious in nature. As I mentioned before, when three or more people are involved in an offence, the offence usually involves more serious repercussions to individuals and victims. For instance, first, the offences are more likely to involve a firearm or another weapon. Second, when a violent crime is committed by a group, the chance that the victim will be injured or killed is much higher. Third, hate crimes, which are so despicable in this country, tend to involve groups or other individuals more than non-hate crimes. These statistics, although small in number, show that the repercussions and the impact on victims are much more serious than if they are incidents committed by a single offender.

These recent statistics also reveal that co-offending and group crimes are a trend that is more likely to be among young people, or youthful offenders. That is also a difficulty because these crimes, for youth, set the trend for them for future years. Judges need to be able to stop them at that age. The crimes that youth are involved in include breaking and entering, arson, robbery, possession of stolen property and theft. Indeed, there is no victimless crime in these types of incidents. There is also a connection between group crimes and co-offending and the eventual formation of more structured criminal enterprises for youth and others.

I have been told startling statistics, such as that it is 8% of crimes that are ever solved. If youth commit crimes with three or more people, they get away with them and are enriched by that behaviour, those people are more likely to continue to commit crimes. We need to give the tools to the judiciary to be able to stop them in their tracks so they change their ways.

There is also a connection in other ways to more serious crimes, and that would be involvement with organized crime. That is why I believe there has been a gap in the Criminal Code legislation for crimes committed by groups of three or more people and being able to punish them adequately to reflect the crime the offenders have been involved in. Although judges can already recognize the seriousness of the commission of a crime by a group at sentencing, Bill C-526 would specify that in every situation where three or more offenders are involved in an offence, this factor shall be taken into consideration. It would give less leeway in a way, but it instructs, on a public policy basis, that judges should take this more seriously and actually throw the book at these people.

Some may question how the aggravating factor differs from the existing aggravating factor for criminal organization offences. In order for a criminal group to fall within the definition of a criminal organization, the commission of the offence must also be motivated by a material benefit for the group. I am not going to go into it in great detail, but let us just say that the changes to the criminal organization offences have not been very effective.

I have worked in the trenches and I have seen what has taken place in criminal courts. I know how plea bargaining and crown prosecutors work, and I know how defence counsels work. Bluntly speaking, it is very difficult to prove that a person is a member of a criminal organization, that the criminal organization was involved, and that indeed the criminal organization is a criminal organization. I have been told, and we have heard it from a particular report, that it takes up to a week or two weeks to prove these particular offence traits and facts. Then they have to do that with every co-accused person, and every new person who belongs to a particular gang or criminal organization, for instance. It is very difficult to prove.

Although the facts are there, and it shows the factors in the Criminal Code relating to criminal organizations and how crown prosecutors can prove it, et cetera, the truth is that very few people were convicted under this provision over the last period of years that it has been in force.

The proposed new aggravating factor in Bill C-526 does not require an element of material benefit. The new aggravating factor would simply include situations where there is evidence that the offence was connected in any way to a group of three or more persons with the common purpose of facilitating or committing an offence under the Criminal Code or any act of Parliament.

While the existing aggravating factor of organized crime may overlap somewhat, and it is agreed it may somewhat overlap, the proposed new aggravating factor, the new factor that I have proposed, is less stringent and captures a broader range of offences. They are more simple to prove, as I mentioned. For example, this new aggravating factor could also apply to a number of different scenarios, such as breaking into a home or business to commit a theft; a sexual assault; offences, as I mentioned, that are motivated by hate, and drug trafficking and auto theft, to name just a few. That is provided, of course, that the offence is committed by a group of three or more persons.

The new aggravating factor would strengthen the Criminal Code because it would capture group crimes that do not meet the definition of organized crime. As I said, it is very difficult to prove. Group crimes may still be very serious, even absent the motive of material benefit. In fact, most Canadians would not understand why they have to prove material benefit under an organized crime scenario, such as in a sexual assault or hate crime. However, from my perspective, it is quite shocking that it is not included in the Criminal Code as such, and I believe there has been a gap that we can fill with this legislation.

While I have spoken at length about the benefits of the new proposed aggravating factor to address group crimes, I must also take a moment to discuss the second proposal. The objective of this new category is to send a message to the courts that these crimes are extremely serious and to give judges further discretion in relation to these types of crimes. I think most Canadians would agree that people who are involved in organized crimes or terrorism offences should have the book thrown at them. We do not want them in Canada. We do not want to encourage those people to be involved in these offences in Canada. We do not want them to do this at all.

When we find these people, we should be able to easily prove that they are those people. For instance, I think members would be surprised to find out that because it is so difficult to prove these offences and the facts of these cases, crown prosecutors have to plea bargain because they do not want these people to get off completely. Plea bargaining in essence means that prosecutors do not get everything they want. They are not going to be able to go to trial and find people guilty of every offence.

Crown prosecutors are going to ask how easy or difficult it will be to prove these three offences. If it is difficult to prove these three offences in criminal organizations, with the group crimes that I have proposed there is a gap that will not allow them to suggest it is going to take two weeks to go to trial, that it will take time and it will be very difficult prove someone is part of a criminal organization. What would happen now is that the crown prosecutor can say he or she does not need to worry about that criminal organization and to prove that fact. The prosecutor would only need to prove to the judge or justice that there were three or more people involved in the crime. Then the judge can give a more serious penalty, and in fact the judge has to take that into consideration.

I am open to possible amendments from the government or the opposition. I encourage all members to participate in the study of this particular bill. It is a great bill, and I cannot imagine anybody standing against it. However, of course there is always the chance that somebody might feel he or she could do a better job with some particular part of the bill. I am open to that.

I would urge the members of the House, in all parties, to support this bill at second reading so it can be referred to committee for further study. As we know, the ultimate goal of stiffer sentences being imposed on offenders who form a common intent to commit crimes is worthy of support. In many situations, the amendment would apply to gangs that may not meet the criteria to be considered for a criminal organization.

In closing, I consider this to be a very responsible approach to current crime trends and an important message to group crime and organized crime offenders. We will stand up for Canadians on this side of the House, and I believe in this particular case that all members of the House will do the same.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for his bill. We will have the opportunity to discuss it further.

Committing an organized crime or terrorism offence now constitutes an aggravating circumstance under paragraphs 718.2(a)(iv) and 718.2(a)(v) of the Criminal Code. Despite my colleague's somewhat inflated rhetoric—and I say this nicely—the only thing Bill C-526 changes is that it creates a serious aggravating factor. This new concept has never been tested in the Criminal Code.

I am trying to understand what he said, because we reviewed the case law on organized crime and terrorism offences and, according to that review, heavy sentences are already being imposed for these offences.

What would his bill be adding other than a certain lack of clarity? In inserting a new concept in the Criminal Code, namely a serious aggravating factor, are we not creating some legal uncertainty that the courts might find difficult to deal with?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, I am open to possible amendments in that particular section of the bill.

I do understand some members have come forward, in particular on our side of the House when I briefed them, with some issues relating to that and muddying the waters or confusing the issues. I do not believe it does, just on the basis of my experience in court. I know the member has had some experience in court as well.

I do believe, however, that the three or more provision is a catch-all. I believe that fills a gap and would, in essence, make it much easier for crown prosecutors to prove their case, and if they cannot prove their case, much easier for crown prosecutors to make a reasonable plea bargain that would see that the accused and convicted would receive a more serious crime based on the facts of the particular case.

I look forward to the member's questions during committee. I certainly look forward to her experience being brought forward, to get a better bill, ultimately, which is why we are here.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of questions for the hon. member.

I do not think there is anyone who rejects the general principle of the need for deterrence in serious crimes. However, I really wonder whether the bill is, quite frankly, a solution in search of problem.

I have two specific issues. First, there is a line drawn at three people. Why is it not two? Why is it not four? Is there some evidentiary basis for this decision to fix on three people? Is there some indicator in the stats that this is the cut-off at which we have seriously deficient sentences?

The other issue I am concerned about is the potential unintended circumstances of creating an elevated category of aggravating circumstances. By putting certain factors as “seriously aggravating”, do we not run the risk of some crafty defence counsel being able to successfully argue, “Well, this is a hate crime but it is not a terrorist crime. Hate crimes are only aggravating factors. Terrorist crimes are seriously aggravating factors. Therefore, you should go easy”?

Are we not running that risk by creating this new category? Are we not trying to fix something that is not broken?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, while I appreciate that, I do not agree with the member. I do believe there is a break.

We heard from experts. We did a study on organized crime some two years ago in the justice committee. We heard from experts who said it was very difficult to indeed prove the fundamentals of organized crime. It is very difficult to get convictions in court. It is very difficult to prove the facts. Indeed, it costs a lot of money for taxpayers to be able to prove this.

I do not believe that at all. In fact, I would like to answer the question that the member first put to me in relation to the group and why three or more. The statistics are startling in relation to when three or more people are involved in a crime. They are usually much more violent crimes.

I think it takes more planning. It takes more people getting together for a longer period of time. It is a complicated situation, usually. It leads to more violent behaviour. As a result, victims are frankly left out in the cold. I have seen situations where three or more people have been involved in a simple assault and a person has died. If that was a one-on-one person crime, the likelihood of that happening is very minimal. Indeed, the statistics bear my argument out.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I always feel privileged to rise in the House to participate in a debate on a bill that is being introduced. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that I take very seriously our role as legislators, which is vested in us as elected members. In this role, I also act as justice critic. Every time a new bill has to do with my responsibilities, I study it carefully to learn its objective.

Then, when we gather the entire caucus of the New Democratic Party to discuss it—we do not really need democratic reform legislation to do this—I make a recommendation based on consultations that I make a point of conducting religiously and rigorously.

This sometimes leads to rather vigorous debate within our caucus, for example, with regard to why we support sending to committee bills at second reading that have me shaking my head. These are most often bills from the Conservative side, whether they are introduced by the government or a backbencher. I try to understand their reasons.

It is often the title of the bill that makes me realize that the Conservatives want to introduce some sort of bumper sticker legislation that is nothing but showy advertising, without any real content below the surface. We cannot be too careful. Sometimes, when we take a close look at something we can see there is nothing to it.

On this matter, I made a point of contacting people in the field of law whom I respect a great deal and who are often more knowledgeable than I am on matters of criminal law, including law experts at the Barreau du Québec. The president of the Barreau du Québec sent a response regarding Bill C-526, whose fancy title is the “Cracking Down on Organized Crime and Terrorism Act”, as I was saying to the member who introduced the bill in the House. The Conservatives are laying it on a little thick, but when you scratch the surface, there is very little to this bill. Here is the reply from the president of the Barreau du Québec.

The Barreau du Québec questions whether it is really necessary to expand the list of aggravating factors for the various offences in the Criminal Code, since we do not believe that this will help prevent the commission of the offences targeted in the bill.

In our opinion, forcing judges to conclude that there is an “aggravating” factor simply because three people committed a crime together, as opposed to any other number, is pointless in terms of the bill's objective, which is to protect the public.

This very simple reply goes directly to the question I asked my colleague regarding whether a Criminal Code provision already stipulates that terrorism and criminal organization offences are considered aggravating factors when someone is found guilty. This bill introduces the notion of a serious aggravating factor, and I have to wonder about this, since it is a concept that does not exist in the Criminal Code and could cause some problems.

However, there will be an opportunity examine it more closely. Given that our debates here are often limited, at committee is usually where we can do a more thorough examination and hear from experts who point things out to us that we may not have considered in a more superficial study at second reading.

I find the bill somewhat pointless overall. I am talking about it because this is perhaps one of the last “law and order” bills we will have the chance to look at before we break for the holidays.

When I have the honour of rising in the House, it is also because, above all, I respect my primary role, which is to represent the people of my riding of Gatineau. When I go into the community to speak with them, they talk to me about the justice system. The government is determined to blame the courts for everything that goes wrong, but the government itself is often at fault. Introducing small bills that serve no real purpose will not address certain issues.

I want to share with my colleagues a letter I received that deeply touched me because of my role as a legislator and as justice critic. However, I think that justice concerns us all, no matter what our role in our respective party.

Eric and Jill Faulks, grandparents who live in British Columbia, wrote to me as the NDP justice critic. They also wrote to the Minister of Justice. This is what they said:

Our 18 year old grandson, Travis Hurlbert, was killed in an automobile collision in Edmonton on July 24th, 2013.

It is hard for our family to consider this less than murder under the circumstances. We understand that the alleged perpetrator had a DUI against him in 2006, was fined 3 times in 2010 for driving while disqualified, and charged again in May 2012 but did not show up for his court date in July 2012. Police then issued a warrant for his arrest. A year later with his address apparently known, he was still free to kill.

That is a real-life situation. It relates to our daily lives. That is the kind of scenario that makes people, taxpayers, Canadians and Quebeckers question the justice system.

The justice system has several components. For example, one component consists of bills such as this one, which claim to address this and that. At the end of the day, they solve nothing. Laws exist, but there is a problem, and that problem is not the sentences being handed down.

Hon. members will recall that at one point this summer, the RCMP told us how long it takes to add offences to an individual's criminal record. That information was provided by the provincial justice departments. Even if an individual is sentenced to 12 years in prison, if the sentence and the fact that he was found guilty are not recorded in his criminal record, we can create every law imaginable and it will not do any good.

We have to give our police officers resources and put more officers in the field to make sure that a sickening individual like that cannot hurt anyone. He did not even bother to show up in court. There was a warrant for his arrest. He was not allowed to drive and was told so three or four times, but there he was behind the wheel again. If our society cannot do something about that, there is a problem somewhere.

I am not trying to downplay the importance of Bill C-526 and the kind of offences it is trying to cover, but there are more serious issues.

On the one hand, we have this bill, even though an aggravating circumstance already exists for the same kinds of offences, and the sponsor wants to bring in something new that will give lawyers an excuse to go on ad nauseam. On the other hand, on the ground, I need answers for the people who contact me as justice critic and ask me what I am doing with this. They want to know what we politicians are doing as Christmas approaches and they have to live without their grandson. I cannot fathom how they manage to sleep at night. I feel that they have failed dismally.

This letter is worth reading because it conveys beautiful ideas about life. These people could have wanted that man to die. Who would blame them? They lost their 18-year-old grandson, who missed out on doing all kinds of things. He had his whole life ahead of him. He was slain by a sickening man who should not even have been there, but who was because society failed dismally. Those people say that after the first offence, the offender needs help and society should try to reintegrate him properly. The second time around, people start asking questions. Whatever happened did not work because the person did not learn.

Yes, we will support Bill C-526 at second reading, but I would like everyone to think about something. Instead of fixating on this or that and paying people to come up with slogans and all kinds of bills, how about putting money where it is really needed? How about more police officers and more services to crack down on repeat offenders when we know that is what they are?

Judges can do everything in their power, but if they do not know that the person before them has already committed a crime, they cannot give the most appropriate sentence taking into consideration the fact that it is a repeat offence.

Shame on us for not really taking care of business the way it should be.

Merry Christmas.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, today the Conservative member of Parliament for Fort McMurray—Athabasca is presenting his bill, another bill on crime.

I want to state from the outset and for the record how troubling it is to be presented with yet another private member's bill related to crime. I will not suggest today, though, as I often do, that the bill was prepared by the PMO and disguised as a private member's bill. I do not think even the PMO would have suggested a bill that does so little. I honestly believe that this is a solution seeking a problem.

Would it not be nice if, just for once, someone over there would use the opportunity of private members' business to place before the House a proposal that would actually make a difference for people, such as do something that would signal a nod to poverty or inequality, or acknowledge the fact that crime is often rooted in poverty and in mental health issues? Would it not be great if, just for once, someone over there would do something that was decent, rather than focus on or be motivated by an obsession with crime and punishment?

Would it not be great if the Conservatives would put some of that energy into actually helping to prevent crime by supporting community programming to help young people who, through no fault of their own, grow up in systemic poverty, who come from troubled families, and who are often exposed to addiction from early ages? Would that not have been a much better use of time and effort?

Instead, we get this, which is another so-called crime bill tinkering around the edges of the Criminal Code.

Why, I ask, did the member not present a bill that would tackle a real issue, such as the overrepresentation of aboriginals in the prison system? Why did he not put forth a bill calling for a national strategy to tackle poverty, which is again the root of much of the crime he and his party are so obsessed with? Why did he not put forth a bill that would help tackle addiction among young people, which is again the root of much of the crime he and his party are so obsessed with?

Why did he not put forward a bill to encourage more support for our veterans who suffer from PTSD?

Why did he not put forward a bill to address youth unemployment, which is so rampant in Canada, and which the government has done so little to address?

Why did he not produce a bill to remove political control over government to advertising and call for an independent watchdog so that we could finally do away with the over $500 million, and counting, of wasted government propaganda and unprecedented abuse of taxpayer money, all for the benefit of the Conservative Party? Why did he not put forward a proposal calling for sweeping changes to election fraud to put an end to the shenanigans his party now stands accused of?

Instead, we get another pointless bill that does nothing to help.

Such is the manner in which the Conservative government and its compliant backbench operate. They are so obsessed at showing themselves as being tough on crime that at times they seem to practically fall over one another to prove themselves.

To listen to the Conservatives, one would think that crime is rampant and that riots are breaking out across the country.

The Conservatives peddle in fear and propaganda for political party purposes. Part of peddling falsehoods about crime in Canada and part of the real purpose for all these crime bills is to raise money from the narrow-minded group they call their base.

The House knows the group of which I speak. It is the group of right-wingers who constitute the backbone of the Conservative Party. They are the people who loathe the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They loathe it so much that when Canadians sought to honour its 30th anniversary, they ignored them. Instead, they issued a belated press release, and that was it. They issued a press release to honour the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There was no year-long celebration of the charter, unlike the effort to worship the War of 1812, an exercise in propaganda that wasted millions of dollars in doing so. There was not a chance they would honour a document like the charter that actually makes a difference to Canadians, but for any 200-year-old wars used for propaganda purposes they would give $12 million.

What we have here are amendments to the sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code. As we have heard, these amendments create a new aggravating factor, one that fixes a number of three persons as the level at which something goes from not being an aggravating factor to being an aggravating factor.

Why three? Why not four? Why not two? Why not some other number? There is a real sense of arbitrariness that defies explanation.

The bill creates a new category of aggravating factors, a super-category called “serious aggravating factors”, and it lifts two of the aggravating factors presently contained in the code and elevates them to another level. They relate specifically to organized crime and to terrorists. Again, I say this is a solution in search of a problem. There is no indication, no evidentiary basis, on which to suggest that sentences for organized crime or terrorism are too light. If there were, why not increase the sentences?

We are tinkering with a coherent sentencing regime that is set forth within the Criminal Code, and this tinkering could have unintended consequences. By creating a new super-category, are we suggesting that in all cases a mobster is worse than a neo-Nazi? That is essentially the type of argument that this bill is bound to produce once it runs through the test of everyday litigation.

We in the Liberal Party believe in evidence-based policy-making. There is absolutely no evidence that sentences for organized crime or for terrorists are too low. In fact, the most recent example of a case involving a terrorist conviction and sentencing in terrorist cases is the Khawaja case in Ontario. In 2006, at trial, Mr. Khawaja was sentenced to 10 years. When it went to appeal, the appeal court found that the sentence was too light and sentenced him to life. That sentence was upheld before the Supreme Court of Canada, so there is no empirical evidence to suggest that there is a problem here.

We are concerned that an otherwise coherent sentencing regime is being tinkered with solely for political purposes. This is so that the opposition parties can be goaded into voting against a bill that is arbitrary and redundant for the sole purpose of appealing to the base. We support measures that deter organized crime and terrorism—everyone does—but the bill is redundant and arbitrary. It misses the mark.

I am pleased to hear the member say that he is open to suggested amendments from the government side and from the opposition benches. I hope he is genuine in that regard, because when this matter gets before committee, I expect we will be going on that search for some empirical evidence to justify what has been put in the bill with respect to the Criminal Code. If we do not find it, I would hope that the bill is going to be scrapped. If there is some other way to address what is a real evil, not a perceived evil, my hope is that we will have opportunity to deal with that.

The obsession with crime within the Conservative ranks is indeed troubling. Just recently we heard the Minister of Justice suggest that on arrest, we should be able to take a DNA sample prior to any conviction. This, of course, would undoubtedly be found to be wholly unconstitutional, but it sure would make the Conservative base happy as we gear up for what is likely to be a pending leadership.

This obsession with looking tough on crime, I would submit, should be of grave concern to the House and to Canadians. When will the Conservatives get tough on fighting poverty? When will they get tough on fighting climate change? When will they get tough on fighting for health care? When will they get tough on helping the most vulnerable? When will they stop putting ideology over facts and evidence? The only thing the government is tough on is the truth, and it is Canadians who will suffer as a result.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


David Wilks Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and have the opportunity to participate in the second reading debate of Bill C-526. The bill is an important initiative to strengthen the Criminal Code's treatment of organized crime and terrorism offences and is one that the government supports.

It is without doubt that organized crime and terrorism offences are among the most serious in Canada. One need look no further than the April 2013 arrests of individuals in Toronto and Montreal for alleged terrorism offences to know that the threat of terrorism is ongoing and ever-present. The terrorist threats Canadians face at home are most often connected with and inspired by developments in terrorist threats abroad. Homegrown violent extremists have been involved in attempts to recruit supporters, raise funds, or acquire other forms of support.

At the same time, organized crime has become increasingly widespread and sophisticated. Organized crime groups, including street gangs, exist in almost every region of the country and are involved in numerous illegal markets. In 2011 CSIS, Canada's criminal intelligence service, identified 729 organized groups in Canada. They estimate that illegal drugs make up 57% of the illegal marketplace in Canada. Financial crime, human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and the illegal movement of firearms, tobacco, and vehicles are also lucrative for organized crime in Canada. Criminal organizations also target vulnerable youth and recruit them into gangs to carry out illicit activities.

Bill C-526 complements the work already undertaken by our government to strengthen the Criminal Code's response to organized crime and terrorism.

With respect to organized crime, our government has introduced a number of other pieces of legislation. In 2008, Parliament enacted Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, which increased some mandatory minimum penalties for gun crimes linked with organized crime. In 2009, Bill C-14, an act to amend the Criminal Code with regard to organized crime and protection of justice system participants, was enacted. It deemed murders committed on behalf of criminal organizations to be first degree murder and created a new offence targeting drive-by shootings. Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act, became law in 2012. It enacted mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug crimes, including those linked to organized crime.

The government has also introduced two bills to address terrorism. Bill S-7, the combatting terrorism act, came into force on July 15, 2013, and added four new terrorism offences to the Criminal Code. Bill S-9, the nuclear terrorism act, also created four new offences and came into force on November 1, 2013.

Bill C-526 proposes to provide further direction to the courts by adding to the existing enumerated list of aggravating factors that should be considered when sentencing an offender. It would create a new aggravating factor that would apply to sentencing when there is evidence that an offence was connected in any way to a group of three or more persons with a common purpose of facilitating or committing an offence under the Criminal Code or any other act of Parliament. This means that judges all across Canada would be able to justify the imposition of a serious penalty in cases of groups of three or more committing an offence together.

Bill C-526 also proposes to take two of the existing aggravating factors, those being terrorism and organized crime offences, and elevate them to a new category of serious aggravating factors, indicating to the courts that these offences should be treated more seriously than the other aggravating factors.

This codification of aggravating factors plays an important role in the ongoing dialogue between Parliament and the courts. They provide legislative direction to the courts that Parliament intends that in crimes in which these factors are present, a stiffer sentence should be imposed.

In situations where a prosecutor chooses to rely upon an aggravating factor in sentencing, and that factor has not been established during the trial as part of the offence for which the accused is convicted, the prosecutor must establish it beyond a reasonable doubt at the sentencing stage. In cases involving organized crime that are not charged under one of the specific organized crime offences, generally the onus is on the prosecutor to prove the existence of a criminal organization at the sentencing stage if it was not proven during the trial. In some cases, this can be challenged. For example, when there is no witness willing to testify as to the existence of a criminal organization, the crown must rely on evidence such as wire taps or undercover operations, which can be dangerous, expensive, and time-consuming endeavours.

It could appear that the new aggravating factors are simply a legislative attempt to sidestep the evidentiary hurdle by introducing a new aggravating factor that does not contain this requirement. This is not the case. There are important distinctions between the organized crime aggravating factor and the proposed factor we are debating today. While there is some overlap between the two, they describe two different situations.

The new aggravating factor would include situations where there is evidence that an offence was connected, in any way, to a group of three or more persons with the common purpose of facilitating or committing an offence under the Criminal Code or any other act of Parliament. While the existing organized crime factor may overlap with this new aggravating factor, the new factor would actually go beyond and capture a much broader range of offences and would directly address the serious issue of co-offending.

Group crimes, like organized crime offences, involve three or more individuals who plot together to commit a crime. The distinction between the two is that in organized crime situations, there always has to be a structured criminal organization, and the motive for committing the crime is to obtain a material benefit for the group or for a member of the group.

The new aggravating factor is much broader. It would capture random groups of people who form a common intent to commit any crime for any purpose, not just for material benefit. It would capture crimes such as group sexual assaults or hate crimes committed by a gang of racists, to name a few. It is easy to see that the two aggravating factors are really quite distinct.

It is important to keep in mind that a crime committed by a group has the potential to be more dangerous and more serious than a crime committed by a single person. For example, compare a traditional mugging, by a single offender, and a swarming, where a gang of individuals descends upon a victim to either rob or assault the victim. In many cases, the victim is far more likely to be overpowered and seriously injured than if confronted by just one person. Both types of crime are terrible, but when we multiply the number of people involved in an offence, the level of risk to the safety of the victim can quickly escalate.

Bill C-526, introduced by the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, would strengthen the Criminal Code and provide clarity in police investigations when dealing with crimes involving three or more persons. “Three or more persons” has already been set as having precedence in the Criminal Code under section 63(1), which anyone can find.

In closing, I encourage all members to support this bill and vote in favour of it moving forward to committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, my contribution to the debate on the assessment of the merits of Bill C-526, which has to do with sentencing based on a scheme proper to criminal proceedings, will focus on the principles that should guide the study in committee. However, I would also like to focus on the questionable practice of codifying sentencing criteria.

An assessment of merit can definitely be used in a work context and in labour relations. When we have to assess an employee, often we weigh the major advantages, the strengths and the weaknesses of that person. In my view, this type of reasoning and exercise can also be used to evaluate the bills we are asked to study. In this case, I want to emphasize the fact that this is a private member's bill. Ideals must prevail. In this case, the bill deals first and foremost with the principle of sentencing and sentencing submissions. At the risk of repeating myself, I would say that criminal law is based on practice and custom. Criminal law is rooted in common law. It differs widely from one judicial district to the next.

For example, in the judicial district around Fort McMurray, the law may be somewhat harsher given the degradation and deterioration of the social fabric. During the summer, a social worker told me that Fort McMurray has many problems related to the resurgence and reappearance of syphilis in the region. That indicates that there is criminal activity and that, in some parts of Canada, the courts have to rely on stricter sentencing principles. That explains somewhat why judicial districts are different and unique.

Until just recently—and I would like to think that it is still the case—judges and crown prosecutors were afforded considerable latitude in determining the appropriate sentence for any given offence. When I said that criminal law is based on custom, I meant that, in such a case, during submissions on sentencing, the crown prosecutors make their case based on the case law and doctrine. However, the defence lawyers also do the same. In the end, the judge is free to make the most appropriate decision. In this case, with this bill, the government is once again trying to interfere in the administration of justice. It is clear that the government is interfering in this area, but it has also interfered in other matters over the past few years. During their time in office, the Conservatives have been using backdoor schemes to try to influence or interfere in matters that, until just recently, were enshrined in law and whose fairness and transparency were above reproach.

I would like to stress that it is not necessary to add to the list of aggravating factors for various offences set out in the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code already contains a fairly substantial list of aggravating factors. During submissions on sentencing, judges and crown prosecutors point out what elements of the case should be considered aggravating factors. It is then up to the judge to make a decision in that regard.

Based on that observation, it is essential that we examine certain aspects of this bill more closely in order to assess the reach of a new category of serious aggravating factors. There is a scale. The next thing you know, we will be talking about supreme universal aggravating factors. At some point, we are going to run out of adjectives.

We are talking about serious aggravating factors, their possible interpretation by the judiciary and the specific nature of item 718.2(a)(i)(F), which provides a different definition of a criminal organization than the Criminal Code does. Bill C-526 refers to three offences, which I will quickly mention.

The first is an offence that is connected in any way to a group of three or more persons with a common purpose of facilitating or committing an offence. In my opinion, that is already covered by the Criminal Code. The second is an offence that is committed in association with a criminal organization, and the third is a terrorism offence. This is already an aggravating factor under section 718.2 of the existing Criminal Code.

I would like to mention in passing that the Conservative government's revisionist legislative initiatives have been a recurring theme throughout its time in office. I stress the word “revisionist” because it applies not only to criminal law or the practice of law but to many other areas as well, including terrorism.

I must say that it is a bit unrealistic, especially considering the reality in Canada. However, this notion seems to catch people's attention and they really focus on it. Ultimately, it is redundant, since the criteria are being added.

However, I think that this private member's bill—and other experts and lawyers agree—is primarily meant to please a voter base. We are approaching the holidays, and this government that claims to be tough on crime has some work to do, especially if you look at the latest statistics and polling data. This government tries to please its voter base and the big lobbies as much as possible.

The prison population is also part of the economy. Some people think that is appalling and controversial, but others believe that they account for a significant part of our country's economic development. This legislation clearly shows that.

I would now like to talk about sentencing submissions, since that is the crux of this issue. The criteria and aggravating circumstances come into play during sentencing submissions. Both attorneys are present for sentencing arguments. In serious cases, such as terrorism, conspiracies or organized crime, sentencing submissions are most often a separate step. When the offender is found guilty, there is another step that can last several days or several weeks, based on the severity of the case. For homicides, sentencing submissions can last several weeks. That is when jurists and lawyers—both the Crown and the defence—will make their arguments and will of course base them on legislation, but also doctrine and jurisprudence, including corresponding or similar decisions.

This is a familiar process that is rather amicable, if I can call it that. I like to think that criminal law is primarily something you learn on the job and that it reflects the particularities of a given judicial district. That is why there was so much latitude and why the judge had plenty of leeway in imposing a sentence informed by the circumstances.

The Conservatives are once again trying to impose their vision. Earlier, I heard the hon. member opposite—I remember now—minimizing the validity of plea bargaining. He said that, often, people are linked, that plea bargaining is the last resort and that people are forced to resort to it for lack of an appropriate sentence. Plea bargaining saves Canadians a substantial amount of money and greases the wheels of the justice system, speeding everything up or at least creating a more fluid legal process. That is why plea bargaining remains essential. In the end, the lawyers come to a consensus.

This is the umpteenth time the Conservatives have tried to control the administration of justice, which is utterly deplorable. They will pay the price eventually. The experts at the Canadian Bar Association also zeroed in on the compellability nature of the proposed additions. In their opinion:

...forcing judges to conclude that three people committing a crime together, as opposed to any other number, is an aggravating circumstance, does not advance the goal of protecting the public, which is the point of this bill.

On that note, I will allow the House to digest what I have just said. Good afternoon.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A letter to the hon. member for Terrebonne—BlainvillePrivilegePrivate Members' Business



Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to raise a question of privilege regarding a letter I received on Friday, December 6, from Senator Dagenais, a letter that I consider insulting and, quite frankly, hostile.

My question of privilege follows a point of order already raised by my House leader, the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

Last Friday, Senator Dagenais decided to send a letter, not only to me but to all senators and all members of the House of Commons, as well as their assistants. That letter can only be described as a vicious personal attack against me.

In the letter, Mr. Dagenais is reacting to a document I sent to my constituents as part of the NDP's campaign to abolish the Senate, an unelected body that is not accountable to Canadians and is currently being investigated by the RCMP.

Mr. Speaker, I will spare you the exact content of the letter, because if I were to read it here, you would probably tell me that my language was unparliamentary. Let me simply say that the content of the letter is condescending and misogynistic.

The part that disgusts me the most is when Senator Dagenais suggests that I should go to the library and read a book, as though I were a little girl who does not take her work seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is stunts like this that discourage young women from entering politics.

Again, for Senator Dagenais to suggest that I should go to the library and read a book or two is very insulting, as the overall tone of this letter suggests that I am simply a little girl who does not take her work seriously.

I will tell you, now, Mr. Speaker, this old-school mentality that appears to be entrenched in Senator Dagenais' political outlook is the exact type of barrier that young women face and struggle against when they make the decision to engage in political life.

I am particularly saddened today to see that political debate has reached a new low because of Senator Dagenais. I was elected by my constituents to have intelligent debates on facts, not to respond to cheap political and personal shots. That is why I am raising this issue today, in the hope that the necessary steps will be taken and that we will be able to move on and get back to debating important issues for Canadians.

I can say that abolishing the Senate is one of those important issues. In his letter, Senator Dagenais says that abolishing the Senate is not part of the NDP platform. Where has the senator been over the past few years? I would really like to know. The fact is that abolishing the Senate has been part of the NDP platform for decades.

This year alone, I have attended over 300 events in my riding. I have knocked on thousands of doors and I can say that many of the constituents I met said that they were disgusted by the Senate scandal and that they are concerned about the Senate not representing their interests.

I am certainly not going to apologize for sending out pamphlets that directly address the concerns of my constituents. Senator Dagenais in fact epitomizes the very Senate practices that we condemn. As we know, he ran and lost in the 2011 election in Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. However, just a year later, the Prime Minister rewarded him for his loyal services with a high paying job in the Senate, until he retires at age 75.

Since 2011, the Prime Minister, who promised not to appoint anyone to the Senate, has appointed 59 senators, including 10 defeated Conservative candidates.

Unlike Mr. Dagenais, I was democratically elected by the people in my riding, who are proud to be represented in the House of Commons by the NDP.

As opposed to Senator Dagenais, who was hand-picked for the Senate by the Prime Minister shortly after he failed to be elected in the 2011 federal election, my constituents democratically elected me to serve their interests in Ottawa. I am honoured to do so and they are proud to be represented in the House of Commons by the NDP.

We know that intimidation, obstruction and interference in the work of any member of Parliament are considered to be a breach of privilege against that member and are considered to be contempt of Parliament.

On pages 230 and 231 of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, second edition, Maingot states:

Any form of intimidation…of a person for or on account of his behaviour during a proceeding in Parliament could amount to contempt.

The damage that Mr. Dagenais did to my reputation with this letter could undermine my work as a member of Parliament and therefore hurt my own constituents.

On page 111 of O'Brien and Bosc, the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, it states:

The unjust damaging of a Member’s good name might be seen as constituting an obstruction if the Member is prevented from performing his or her parliamentary functions. In 1987, Speaker Fraser stated:

The privileges of a Member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfilment of his or her duties and functions. It is obvious that the unjust damaging of a reputation could constitute such an impediment. The normal course of a Member who felt himself or herself to be defamed would be the same as that available to any other citizen, recourse to the courts under the laws of defamation with the possibility of damages to substitute for the harm that might be done. However, should the alleged defamation take place on the floor of the House, this recourse is not available.

I would also like to point out what O'Brien and Bosc has to say on pages 96 and 97 with respect to defamatory materials that may circulate about a member of Parliament, which is the case here:

Members also act at their peril when they transmit otherwise defamatory material for purposes unconnected with a parliamentary proceeding...Telecommunications, including technology such as electronic mail, facsimile machines and the Internet, should therefore not be used to transmit otherwise defamatory material.

That is exactly what happened. For that reason, I maintain that this incident represents a breach of my privileges and contempt of Parliament. A letter was sent that was defamatory, misogynistic and condescending to me, and to all my colleagues and to all senators. I believe that the senator acted in this way because he disagrees with the NDP policy that would defend Canadians by abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate.

If you find, as I do, that this is a question of privilege, I will move the appropriate motion to send this matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

In addition, I invite Senator Dagenais to do the right thing: resign right now and stand for election in my riding of Terrebonne—Blainville in 2015 so we can have a real debate. That is democracy.

A letter to the hon. member for Terrebonne—BlainvillePrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The Chair thanks the hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville for her presentation. The Chair will consider it and return to the House at the appropriate time with a ruling.

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC


That the House call on the government to commit to supporting an immediate phase-in of increases to basic public pension benefits under the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans at the upcoming meeting of federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers.

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Today being the last allotted day for the supply period ending December 10, 2013, the House will proceed as usual to the consideration and passage of the appropriation bills.

In view of recent procedures, do hon. members agree to have the bills distributed now?

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

I am proud to have introduced and to lead off debate today on the following important motion:

That the House call on the government to commit to supporting an immediate phase-in of increases to basic public pension benefits under the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans at the upcoming meeting of federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers.

The meeting is to take place later this month at Meech Lake.

New Democrats are demanding that the government take immediate action on this incredibly important issue. The Ontario Liberal premier calls it a “huge economic crisis”. Pension security is one of the key challenges of our time. There is a rare opportunity now to find a lasting solution and I believe we must seize that opportunity.

It is rare to find an apparent consensus of provincial and territorial finance ministers that the CPP needs to be increased, along with its Quebec equivalent, le Régime de rentes du Québec. This agreement is mirrored by a remarkable agreement among leading economists, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, even the editorial board of The Globe and Mail, all saying we must act and we must act now. It is also supported by Bernard Dussault, who was of course the chief actuary of the Canada pension plan and old age security program from 1992 to 1997.

The government seems to want to offer us a false choice. It does not have a viable alternative to increasing the retirement savings of workers. It simply points to voluntary saving schemes, RRSPs and the “pooled” registered pension plan. It simply does not understand the importance of economic security for hard-working families or the importance of urgent repairs to our frayed social safety net to Canada's economic security. If we do not act to improve our pension security, we may consign an entire generation to a retirement in poverty. Failing to provide a safety net for those in their senior years will be a betrayal of that generation. It will be another cruel example of our kids inheriting the largest social, economic and ecological debt in Canadian history.

Although great strides have been made to help the seniors of our generation, our children and grandchildren will simply not be able to retire in dignity. Women, especially, will be hurt. Ironically, if we do not fix the Canada and Quebec pension plans, a future government may very well likely have to pay for social assistance to help that generation in order to make sure those people are taken care of. In other words, it will be the taxpayer who foots the bill rather than a shared investment program between employers and employees.

Right now, only 13.8% of Canadians have access to a workplace pension plan. Less than a third of Canadians have access to a defined benefit plan and only 17% of employees in the private sector have access to a defined benefit plan, down from over 30% in 1982.

In 2008, 122,000 to 567,000 seniors were living in poverty, depending on how one defines that term. These numbers tell a story of an increasingly insecure retirement future for Canadians. It is clear that if we do not act to secure pensions, the very stability of Canada's economic future is at risk. However, as The Globe and Mail has noted, we have an enormous success story in Canada. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board has provided remarkable returns in virtually every year, except the year after the economic downturn of 2008. For example, over the last 10 years, the board has earned an annualized rate of return of 5.5%, even after taking into account inflation. That is certainly better than the returns on most RRSPs.

In fact, just today, Statistics Canada said the CPP and Quebec pension plan grew at a rate of 13.7% between 2011 and 2012, outpacing all other pension assets. By contrast, individual registered savings plans grew 8% over the same period, yet Conservatives appear to be refusing to expand this effective investment tool for the benefit of all Canadians.

Those who argue against increasing the CPP and QPP usually have two key arguments, and I will address them both.

The first is, as they say, is to do the right thing for our next generation, which would be taking a risk with our fragile economic economy.

The second, they say, is that we should just keep on going with the voluntary programs that the insurance companies and others provide, pooled pension plans and the like, and that should do the trick.

Let me examine these arguments in turn.

First, on the economic consequences, if recent history is a guide, then an increase in the CPP will not have the dire economic consequences the government predicts. Professor Rhys Kesselman, Canada's Research Chair in Public Finance at the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University wrote in the Globe and Mail:

—the historical record is that the CPP premium rate hikes initiated in the 1990s to restore financial balance did not hamper an economic expansion. Between 1997 and 2003 CPP premiums were hiked 70 per cent while the country’s employment rate rose strongly and steadily except for a slight dip with the 2001 economic downturn.

Things were fine, in other words, and it did not have an economic increase.

Professor Kesselman also makes clear that the employer's CPP premium is not, as the government terms it, a “payroll tax”. He has written an award-winning book on payroll taxes and he concludes that taxes come from consolidated revenue. Premiums for CPP, of course, come from employer and employee contributions.

As a recent Globe and Mail editorial put it:

Since the proposed CPP premium hikes would provide workers correspondingly higher benefits in retirement, they are not like an ordinary payroll tax increase. Rather, they are like an individual’s payment for improved insurance coverage. This premium-benefit linkage means that CPP premiums lack the disincentive effects of most taxes.

He goes on to say, “Concern over the effects of CPP premium hikes is unwarranted and should not be allowed to block this important policy reform any longer”.

In addition, even if the finance ministers agreed next week to enhance the CPP, it would not come into effect until at least 2016 anyway. The government keeps telling us the economy is going to get better, which should therefore be another reason to go ahead and not delay this important reform any further.

The second argument the government and others have used is that it should be a voluntary and not a mandatory program increase.

How can people be expected to voluntarily save when Canadians already have the highest household debt rate in history? To suggest people should voluntarily save, and that will do the trick, ignores the reality that most working people and an increasingly large number of middle-class Canadians as well are not able to save.

The money must be there when people reach retirement. Therefore, why take a chance on a voluntary program? As I have said before, only a minority of workers have RPPs, RRSPs, or any savings. What is going to happen to the majority?

By way of conclusion, if the government opposes this motion, it has to tell Canadians what it intends to do instead. If the Liberals and the Conservatives say that a voluntary program is just fine, they have to explain how that will actually help young Canadians who cannot save.

Last December, the Minister of Finance said that he and the provincial finance ministers, “had agreed on a way forward on increasing CPP and Quebec pension plan benefits”. Unfortunately, he seems to have changed his tune.

We need a plan for the future of Canadians and our economy. We strongly urge the government to stop standing in the way, work with the provinces and immediately begin phasing in an increase to the CPP and QPP. The time to act is now.

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Durham Ontario


Erin O'Toole ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, my friend and I joined the House in the same by-elections and it is a privilege to hear him opine on this issue.

I will make careful note that he is in firm agreement with the Globe and Mail editorial board, so I will look to it for further concurrence in the future.

My question is based on my long drive into Ottawa this morning on the tricky roads. I listened to the head of the Ontario teachers' pension plan, Jim Leech, talk about pensions and CPP. In terms of CPP reform, he said that it should come in the next 10 years at some point.

The big thing we have to look at is the current economic climate. Can employers afford to do this on the immediate timeline the member is suggesting when there are still a lot of Canadians unemployed or underemployed? We want to ensure the jobs are there first.

I would ask the member to speak to the timing. Should this not be a consultative process of reform over the next few years?

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, as my hon. friend said, we came to this place at the same time and it is a pleasure to be engaging in this important debate. I am pleased that the Globe and Mail is on our side and I think on the side of history.

It is troubling to me that the Minister of Finance apparently said a few years ago that we needed to get on with it, but only when the economy is ready. I have never heard the government define what “ready” is. Is it a GDP increase of 3%, 2%, 5%?

It seems to be that one or two lobby groups have said that they do not want to proceed. As I would describe, the number of pennies that this will cost in the future is quite marginal to do the right thing by Canadians. He asked if we can afford it. I ask how he can afford not to help a new generation in its retirement years. We have to act now for them.

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member for his motion, which the Liberals will support because we believe this is a quintessentially middle-class issue and we are in full support in principle, if not in detail.

However, I do have one question. It struck me as strange, or perhaps one could say quintessentially federal NDP, that the motion calls for an increase in CPP benefits, but there is no mention of increased premiums.

Does the NDP believe we can have increased benefits and the money for the premiums will fall from the sky, or is this a clerical omission? Why does the NDP call for increased benefits with no mention of the need for corresponding increases to premiums?

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate very much the support of the Liberals for the motion today, the third party.

We acknowledge that there must be an increase in premiums and there are two or three plans on the table. In fact, there are many. There is one that the CLC has brought forward. There is another that comes from the provinces. They each define in great detail just what the shared increase would be.

It is a program funded by premiums of employers and employees alike. For example, one plan of the CLC would be to double benefits by increasing premiums by 0.43% of pensionable earnings for each of seven years. For a worker making the average salary of $51,000 a year, the initial cost of doubling future benefits works out to about 10¢ an hour, or $4 a week. That is about the cost of a couple of cups of coffee.

The provincial plan, provided by Mr. Sheridan of Prince Edward Island, has a different scheme and would increase it to help more middle-class people by a wedge process, which would allow higher premiums and higher payments therefore among workers with more money. They have costed that out at less than $2 a week, and in exchange, additional pension benefits of $3,000 a year.

In other words, the premiums would be modest and this is the right thing to do for Canadians now.

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker , I am pleased to rise after my colleague from Victoria, whom I would like to acknowledge and thank today for introducing a motion on a very important subject.

This motion is extremely important because it is being widely discussed, but rarely in the House. Since being elected in 2011, this government has implemented a number of initiatives—the TFSA was created before 2011—as well as private registered pension plans. However, the pension solutions proposed by the government are always individual solutions, much like RRSPs.

In contrast, we are now facing a collective problem. Some people save the full amount allowed for TFSAs or maximize RRSP contributions. Generally, it can be assumed that they are interested in building some security for retirement in their old age. They also have the means to do so, and have been more financially active in their lives.

However, it is much more difficult for the middle class and people who are less fortunate to make long-term and retirement plans. Indeed, they often have day-to-day concerns that force them to deal with their reality today before they can think about retirement. It is clear to me, to my colleague and to this side of the House that the Canada pension plan is the best vehicle to provide security in retirement. We can also include other government initiatives, such as old age security or the guaranteed income supplement, but the Canada pension plan was established more than 40—almost 50—years ago, and has proven itself. It is a portable system with extremely low administrative costs.

If someone has a pension plan in a certain company and then changes companies, the plan does not follow, unless that person goes through a whole bureaucratic process to allow for that. However, the Canada pension plan, and of course its counterpart, the Quebec pension plan, are portable and safe. In 2012, the Department of Finance itself specified in its report—and this was actually confirmed by the chief actuary of the Canada pension plan—that the system is safe for 75 years due to adequate contribution rates, and will even perform well in a future environment with greater demographic pressures. This is expected to happen over the next 15 or 20 years.

The plan is stable. We have an excellent plan, so why not make it better, and not just for people likely to fall below the poverty line when they retire? I know that we have old age security and the guaranteed income supplement to cover the bare minimum and help people who really need income after they retire.

The Canada pension plan can give them the means to be more comfortable in retirement. Of course, these people are encouraged to save up for retirement on their own, but in many cases, that is not possible or desirable for them. Right now, not even 40% of Canadians have additional retirement savings through their employer or independently.

It is extremely important to look at the various options. With all due respect to my colleague from Markham—Unionville, the motion does not mention specific accounting aspects. It does not mention contribution levels or benefit levels because we want the House to agree on the principle that the Canada pension plan—and the Quebec pension plan, we hope—should be able to accommodate the growing need for a secure retirement.

There are other elements in addition to contributions. We can also talk about the existing contribution limit. Contributions are withheld from earnings ranging from $3,500 to about $51,000. In the United States, contributions are withheld from income up to $113,000 U.S. We should think about where income comes from. We know that it will take income or at least contributions or parameters like these to cover higher benefits in the future.

When financial planners recommend adequate retirement income, the say that between 60% and 80% of average income earned during a person's working life should be enough to cover the cost of retirement.

Right now, the Canada pension plan covers about 25%. Some other models and proposals suggest increasing benefits to cover 35%.

We know that the Canada pension plan will not cover 60%, 70% or 80% of a person's working income, but if we can increase it by 10%, that alone would make a big difference. Once again, it would make a big difference for all Canadians, not just the poorest and those who end up struggling once they retire, but also for the middle class and even the upper middle class.

In that sense, it is incredibly important to debate this issue now. There have been meetings of finance ministers. Even before the 2011 election, I followed the meetings that took place in 2009 and 2010, which dealt with critical and fundamental issues. I believe that at the December 2010 meeting, almost all the provinces and territories agreed to expand the Canada pension plan. Since I know people who were involved in the process, I know that at the last minute, the federal government intervened to convince certain provinces to withdraw from the plan. In the end, the government proposed its registered pension plans for companies.

These solutions may be adequate in the short term and under very specific circumstances. However, what we are currently trying to do is to provide the broadest possible coverage and ensure that the Canada pension plan is as useful as possible to as many people as possible.

I have heard the arguments coming from the House and organizations on the economic aspect. People are saying that this is not the right time. The Minister of Finance has said this repeatedly. He is saying that expanding the CPP will reduce growth. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, among others, has expressed its concerns and reservations about the potential increase in premiums, which could lead to an increase in benefits.

This assessment is always done looking at only one side of the equation. People are always talking about the impact an increase in premiums would have on employers and employees. However, they do not consider the impact of being able to put more money into the pockets of people who will often invest directly in the economy.

As a general rule, retirees are no longer saving for their retirement. Those who had the opportunity to buy a home have already paid for it in full. The government would therefore be providing additional benefits that would, once again, often help the middle and lower classes. Overall, people will spend that money, which will boost the economy. The increase in premiums would not jeopardize small and medium-sized businesses and the business world by taking money away from them. On the contrary, it would result in more investments in the economy. This is one way to more effectively oil the economic machine.

As a result, I did not hesitate for a moment in supporting the motion by my colleague from Victoria, because we need to talk about this motion. It needs solid support in the House.

Since this discussion started, I have seen some positive signs from the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. I hope they will be able to see for themselves the benefits, not only for Canada but for all savers and ultimately our retirees, of reaching unanimous agreement on this subject.

That will send a message not only to the Canadian government, but also to all the provinces and to their finance ministers who will be meeting on this issue, that we have to find a solution.

The federal government cannot make the decision alone. It needs the consent of many of the provinces and a large part of the population. If the House can send that clear and unambiguous message to the provinces and the federal government, they will be much more likely to reach an agreement that, in the long term, will benefit all Canadians and all Quebeckers, assuming that Quebec would do likewise with the Quebec pension plan.

Depending on the principles used, this would also be an inexpensive way to stabilize the economy. As my colleague mentioned, he has several options on the table. We need an agreement on what direction to take. Then we can leave it up to the provinces and the federal government to determine the best way to carry this out. We hope to be involved in that process.

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it used to be that one could leave school, get a job, work at the same company for one's entire working career, and retire with a workplace pension. Of course, the situation today is not that way at all, particularly for young people, and particularly for young people in big cities, where the cost of living and the cost of housing are so incredibly expensive.

Young people do not generally think about their pensions when they are young. That is why we are debating this today, because if we do not get this right today, we are relegating an entire generation of Canadian young people to a life of poverty in their senior years.

I would like my hon. colleague to spend a bit of time talking particularly about the importance of this for young people today.

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question, which is very timely indeed.

There are several reasons why young people do not think about retirement. It may be because the subject does not interest them at the moment or because they do not have the means to do so. In our country, approximately 40% of all Canadians in the private sector contribute to a registered pension plan. This percentage falls to less than 30% for young people between the ages of 25 and 29.

Indeed, young people are not able to contribute for various reasons. They may not see the need to contribute now for the long term because retirement is too far away. Furthermore, they may also lack the financial ability to do so. In addition to their employment income, which is often lower for youth, we also have to consider their ability to set money aside from their wages after paying for a house, a car or other expenses.

The question is therefore extremely relevant because the current savings rate of young people is a major concern. In many cases, a measure like this one could help ensure their retirement security in 25, 30, 40 or 50 years.

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his remarks. As always, he is well informed. I would also like to comment on a point that he raised.

It is true that the youth savings rate is alarming. However, we must also recognize that there are young people who are concerned about their retirement and are seriously wondering how to save for a secure retirement.

All we hear these days is that nothing is certain anymore and that we can no longer plan for something 30 years down the road. Young people such as myself who want to put money away for a good retirement hear that the performance of RRSPs is not up to expectations and that those who counted on RRSPs are very disappointed now. In addition, they see that employer pension plans are either falling apart or providing much lower benefits.

For young people who want to plan for their retirement and who are giving it some serious thought, could my colleague explain why the Canada pension plan is secure compared to all the other options available? Also, how could this plan be enhanced, given that it is already in place and it seems to be the most effective?

Opposition Motion—Canada and Quebec Pension PlansBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Canada pension plan is indeed very secure. The returns are great and the administrative costs are very low.

If people invest in an RRSP with a return of 3% or 3.5% every year and administrative costs of 2%, the actual return will be 1% or 1.5%. I think it is very important to realize how useful the Canada pension plan is. The plan is also very attractive because it offers defined benefits compared to private options such as RRSPs. As a result, when we retire, we will know what we are entitled to, and the income will be constant.

RRSPs and initiatives such as the government's pooled registered pension plan are defined contribution plans. People know how much they are putting in the plan, but they never know how much they will ultimately get in return, because that depends on what happens with the economy. The fact that CPP is a defined benefit plan rather than a defined contribution plan enhances its economic security.